While the 10 Chevrolet-powered cars battle among themselves up front Sunday in the 74th annual Indianapolis 500, there will be several "best in class" struggles going on farther back in the pack.
Surprisingly, there are more Buicks, 11, than any engine in the race. Equally surprising, not one of them is in a 1990 model chassis.
Randy Lewis, campaigning a 1988 Penske-Buick for Frank Arciero, is the fastest Buick qualifier with a 218.412-m.p.h. run that put him in the fourth row. He is also the fastest qualifier in an older-model car, with any make engine.
Arciero, an Orange County construction magnate and winery owner, has established a reputation for bringing young drivers to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to give them their first chance at the 500. Among them have been Al Unser in 1965, Pete Halsmer in 1982, Randy Lanier in 1986, Fabrizio Barbazza in 1987 and Didier Theys last year.
Lanier and Barbazza were each an Indy 500 rookie of the year.
So it was a surprise when Arciero tabbed Lewis, 44, a veteran of three 500s and 20 years in racing, and Rich Vogler, 39, to drive his cars this year.
"We hadn't been having much luck here, and neither had Lewis, so I thought maybe if we got together, it might give us both a new lease on life," Arciero said.
Lewis responded with the fastest four laps of his career, but Vogler crashed twice and failed to make the race.
"Here, the Buicks are fantastic," Lewis said as he watched team Manager Dennis McCormick direct the changing of an engine for today's final testing. "Anywhere else, its unfair to run with the rules the way they are. Here, we get 10 more inches (of manifold boost), and that is about 120 more horsepower.
"The Buick engine is a little heavier than the Chevy, and the center of gravity is higher, which makes it more difficult to get the chassis working. The key to running Indy is to go flat-out through the short chutes. If you can't run fast through them, it doesn't matter how much horsepower you have."
The Indy 500 is run under United States Auto Club rules, but the rest of the Indy car season is under Championship Auto Racing Teams rules. The only significant difference is in the amount of manifold boost permitted the Buick V6 stock-block engine against the V8s.
"My goal is still to come here with a new car and a competitive engine," Lewis said, "but in the meantime, I think running a Buick for Frank Arciero is the best alternative. I still see flashes of the way I drove when I was racing Formula Threes in Europe 20 years ago and won races against drivers like (world Formula One champions) James Hunt and Alan Jones.
"I know I used to have it. Now I want to show that I still have it."
Other Buicks will be raced Sunday by Tony and Gary Bettenhausen, Kevin Cogan, Theys, Tom Sneva, Stan Fox, Jim Crawford, Billy Vukovich III, John Paul Jr. and Rocky Moran.
Dominic Dobson, driving a 1990 Lola-Cosworth for Bruce Leven, a Seattle businessman, is the fastest of the Cosworth-powered drivers. He qualified at 219.230 m.p.h., with one lap at 220.162.
"I only did one lap at 220, but it does make you feel as though you've moved into a new league," Dobson said. "At that speed, the short chutes tend to disappear. You have two long straightaways connected by two long U-turns. It felt like I surpassed a barrier, like when I hit 210 in 1988. It would be interesting to go 225. I think the short chutes would even be shorter."
Dobson is one of two drivers used by the British-based factory in developing the Cosworth DFS short-stroke Indy engine. Scott Brayton, of Dick Simon's team, is the other.
"The DFS has more r.p.m.'s and more power at the higher end, but the Chevys come off the corners quicker," Dobson said. "Cosworth is working on a brand-new 1991 engine with no derivative from the current models. They are working with a clean sheet of paper. That's what Chevy did a few years ago, and it worked.
"I would like to will the Cosworth in front of the Chevys on Sunday, but I must be realistic. We hope for attrition, to have a better race setup, to be able to concentrate on a good driveable car, one that's as good for the second half of the race as the first half. We also need good pit stops.
"Can we win? That's theoretical. We must concentrate on doing the best job we can. We want the engine running perfectly. We want the chassis where it should be. We want to have good communication.
"We'll take what we can get, as long as we do the best we can, we'll be satisfied. We wouldn't be happy finishing second and thinking we didn't do a good job."
Cosworth engines will also be in cars driven by Brayton, Tero Palmroth, Pancho Carter and Dean Hall.
There will also be three Judd engines for Raul Boesel, Geoff Brabham and Scott Goodyear; two Porsches, for John Andretti and Teo Fabi, and two Alfa Romeos for Roberto Guerrero and Al Unser.
Up front, however, in the first three rows, the fastest nine cars are all powered by the Chevy engine developed and built in England by Ilmor Engineering.
SPRINT CARS--Ascot Park in Gardena will present its "Salute to the Indy 500" for California Racing Assn. sprint cars Saturday night, honoring those members--such as Troy Ruttman, Parnelli Jones, Mike Moseley, Bill Vukovich Jr., Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser and Al Unser Jr.--who went on to drive in the Indianapolis race. Bubby Jones of Glen Avon will be trying to win the holiday feature 50-lap race for the fourth time. Only one man has four victories in the event, Billy Wilkerson of Temple City.
This will be the last Memorial Day Day weekend for the 34-year-old track. The late J.C. Agajanian, who signed the expiring 15-year lease to promote sprint cars at the track, will be inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame at Indianapolis this weekend.
MIDGETS--The United States Auto Club Western States midget drivers, headed by point leader Sleepy Tripp and 1989 champion Robbie Flock, will be in action Saturday night at Ventura Raceway with the first race of the season on the seaside quarter-mile oval. On Sunday evening the action moves to Ascot Park's quarter-mile. The smaller three-quarter midgets will also compete on both programs.
SPEEDWAY MOTORCYCLES--Mike Faria of Colton will go after his third victory in four starts tonight at Ascot Park's Southbay Speedway in the kickoff event of a five-day holiday celebration at the Gardena track. Speedway action moves to Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa on Friday evening.
STOCK CARS--NASCAR sportsman, hobby stocks, jalopies and a destruction derby will make up Saturday night's program at Saugus Speedway. John Cran of Reseda will be seeking his third straight victory in the 25-lap main event for sportsman cars. . . . Marcus Mallett continues his bid to become the first black driver to win a track championship when he goes after his third main event win in the pro stock class in Monday night's NASCAR racing at Ascot Park. Mallet, who has five top-five finishes in six starts, is the current point leader. Also on the program will be bomber oval cars, figure 8 races and a demolition derby. . . . Sportsman, modifieds, street and bomber stocks will compete Saturday night at Cajon Speedway in El Cajon.
JET SKI--The International Jet Ski Boating Assn. will open its eight-event national tour with races at Long Beach Marine Stadium Sunday and Monday. Racing starts at 10 a.m. each day. The pro finals are set for about 3 p.m. Monday. The defending champion is Jeff Jacobs of El Cajon.